Austin Petersen, the Libertarian presidential candidate, recently endorsed Gary Johnson for president. Petersen has put months of time and effort into running a 21st century campaign with extensive use of social media, and assigning himself the role of an alternative to the candidates presented by the Republican and Democratic parties. He has brought a very youthful awareness to the existence of the Libertarian Party, and in the few months since announcing his candidacy, he has done more to bring recognitions to libertarianism than the other Libertarian presidential candidates combined.
I learned about Petersen’s official endorsement rather unceremoniously from a text message: “Austin just sold us out.” The news came as a bit of a surprise, considering Petersen’s many criticisms of Gary Johnson, which his own supporters seems to have taken as an official “Never Gary” message. Austin Petersen not only promised to provide an alternative to the 2-party system we all know and despise, but also to be an alternative to the Libertarian Party’s own favorite son. Johnson was a Republican, after all. Johnson increased his state budget while in office. Johnson had the power to pardon non-violent drug-related offense charges and chose not to. In short, Johnson is not a libertarian role model. And Petersen, who has run a campaign on principle, just endorsed him.
But this is no reason to question or doubt Petersen’s sincerity. Because the Libertarian Party is a third party and not as openly viewed or broadcasted by the media, it’s difficult to gauge what it is like on the inside. Many people, who months from now will vote for Trump or Clinton, have no clue who Austin Petersen is, or even that the Libertarian Party exists, and will go to sleep tonight oblivious to the efforts that so many of us put into paving a path to make the world the best place it can be. To many of Austin Petersen’s supporters, hope seems lost, because the candidate who so closely aligned with their own principles just turned his back on them.
This is the sad truth about modern libertarians: we’re a tumultuous pot of polarizingly brilliant and ridiculous people striving to move the world in the direction of freedom with absolutely no agreement on how far we should move it. Many of us think that humanity needs no gods or kings, others think we just need to limit their influence. The only idea tying us together is the recognition that, wherever our destination should be, the right path is in the direction of liberty, human dignity, and voluntary action. But some people seem to have fallen in love with a daydream where the perfect leader of the free world walks into the White House and makes everything better in his lifetime, and that is not going to happen.
This is politics; a slow moving world of confusion. When someone says “I’m a libertarian,” and they mean it, they are saying that they want to live free. We all want to be free. Austin Petersen wants to live free. Gary Johnson wants to live free. Some just think we’re going to get there faster than others think we can. The Libertarian Party exists to change politics from the inside, and that means playing the same game, by the same rules, as the people who are currently winning and creating so much misery for so many. The only bright side of the tragic concept of democracy is that we still have the option of voting our way out of it whenever we want to. And we’re convincing people, day by day, to take that option.
Nobody can take the “lesser of 2 evils” argument seriously, because all options in that scenario are expected to leave the nation a worse place than it was when they got there, or, at least, to slow or halt the progress we would have made without them. If libertarians accepted that the lesser of 2 evils was the option for them, we would be gathered around the table trying to decide whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is the lesser of 2 evils, and we’d probably be doing so with the loud, angry voices we’re known for. But the argument for a Johnson administration is not a lesser-of-evils argument. Even considering Austin Petersen to be the more principled individual, Johnson is still a step in the direction we want to go, even if he only takes us a small step towards liberty. Life under the American government is a reality where the fruits of our labor get stolen and consumed while we’re threatened with violent repercussions for defending ourselves, and it became this way in small steps. Small steps will get us back out.
There will be bigger steps in the future. But with the next election so close in time and Johnson standing on the frontlines, he is the option that takes us a step closer to liberty. Petersen apparently realizes this. His endorsement did not stab you in the back, and it wasn’t a signal that he’s given up on liberty. He, like all of us, still wants us to progress towards liberty at whatever rate we can, and that starts by placing Gary Johnson in the White House while we Libertarians figure out how much bigger the step towards liberty will be in the next round. This is not the time to divide ourselves again and compare the purity of our values while more and more people die from the disease of the state. Petersen will still be here when you get back from the voting booth. And please, if you were serious when you said “I’m a libertarian,” respect his choice and vote for Gary Johnson.